October 31, 2015


Can Rugby Finally Conquer America? : It's the second most-popular sport in the world, but its brutal, class-oriented origins have long made it an unnatural fit for the democratic U.S. (DOMINIC GREEN, 10/31/15, WSJ)

While football flounders in an ethical mire, a sibling game--one with origins in the same medieval brawls over a pig's bladder--is poised to enter the big leagues of American sport. Outside North America, rugby is already the world's second most popular game, behind soccer, and a major money-maker. The 2011 Rugby World Cup attracted a cumulative audience of nearly 4 billion viewers. The 2015 World Cup, which culminates on Saturday in a face-off between Australia and New Zealand, has topped that figure, with television coverage in 207 territories, including Libya and the Scott Station near the South Pole.

And yet rugby's true final frontier and television's biggest prize isn't the South Pole, but the United States. As Tony Collins explains in his new book The Oval World: A Global History of Rugby, rugby is becoming American. The U.S. men's team, defeated in this year's pool matches, is seeded 16th in the world; the women's team is fourth. A Chicago-based consortium is planning a national, all-pro league, modeled on the league that launched American soccer in the 1970s. If the prospect of Americans embracing rugby like they do other major sports seems outlandish, it seems even more remarkable when you consider the game's exclusionary origins, as detailed Collins' groundbreaking book. [...]

Televised rugby just might win an American fan base, but Collins doesn't expect it to eclipse football--at least not in the men's game. ‚ÄčIf the sport turns out to have staying power this time, its core ethos of fairness and balance may face a new kind of challenge with the rise of the women's rugby team. (Even the more developed sport of soccer has seen top-ranked women's players treated like amateurs compared to mediocre men's players.) Now ranked third, the USA Eagles women's team is within sight of winning the World Cup one day. If they do, or if the U.S. men's team ever defeats England at its home base in Twickenham Stadium, the sport's traditionalists may mourn the crushing of amateur ethics by television money, and the sullying of rugby's soul.

Yet the moral value of rugby comes not from amateur ideals, but from the physical courage required to play the game, professionally or not. It's a sport where mutual responsibility is assumed, where every player is the last line of defense. Pared down to its most basic elements, rugby is a kind of moral tutor, teaching "passion, pride, and meaning," Collins says. As the sport deepens its roots in the U.S., his book offers a well-timed and deeply informed global history of the game. From now on, he seems to say, we're all living in the oval world.

...is the opacity of the rules and the arbitrariness of their application, which actually decided at least one of the games in this World Cup, though video review is helpful.

Posted by at October 31, 2015 9:22 AM

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